Love, Success and Radford
Alumni Darin and Jennifer Ely give back to the campus that helped forge their lives
By Justin Ward ’10
Life on the east coast of Virginia has proven successful for Darin Ely ’93 and his wife, Jennifer Ely ’96.
The couple and their two children live in a stunning Chesapeake home — a short and serene drive from Virginia Beach, where Darin is owner and president of an investment firm, Virginia Asset Group.
“We’re happy. Everybody has ups and downs in life, but this is everything I could have wanted,” Darin said.
The couple has dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others in their communities, whether through teaching or financial advising. Their story is one of giving, supporting and finding love, and it all began at Radford University.
“I honestly met him on the first day of school,” Jennifer said, reflecting on the moment she locked eyes on her future husband. “We find it funny that I met him on the first day.” She still recalls that initial encounter as if it was just yesterday.
Darin was a senior and a resident assistant on the third floor of Muse Hall. Jennifer was a freshman and living on the first floor. Neither interacted much until she and her roommate needed help heavy lifting, and Darin showed up to lend a hand.
“When I found him at the door, I was so super surprised, because I, of course, thought he was a great catch,” Jennifer said. “That’s just how it started.”
Darin graduated at the end of that academic year in 1993, moved back home to Abingdon, Virginia, and worked four jobs, making a salary of $23,000. He stayed dedicated to his love and made regular trips to visit Jennifer throughout her remaining academic career in Radford. The two got married her senior year in 1996 and included Radford University friends in their wedding.
“We made connections there, and we wanted that to continue and be a part of our wedding,” Jennifer said.
All of her roommates were there and some of his fraternity brothers — a great example of how the Highlander family celebrates joy and success together.
Their love at first sight can also be said of their first visits to campus. Not only was continuing their higher education at Radford University convenient — full of familiar faces from back home and a great way to advance and showcase their skillset to future employers — it just made sense.
Darin grew up an hour and a half from Radford University and was impressed by the College of Business and Economics and the weather during his first visit to campus.
“It was sunny that day,” Darin said jokingly. “The weather would be a strange way to pick the school. All I ever wanted to do was work. I knew college was the way to get to work.”
That drive and motivation carried him through college. He says he made the right choice to help get him where he is today.
“Radford helped me to become much more outgoing,” Darin said. “It gave me the opportunity to get involved, to take leadership positions and to be an RA. You get to meet a lot of people and help them through different situations.”
All of those things created a foundation from which he continued to grow, ultimately resulting in the successful leader he is today. His Radford journey is one he reflects on with pride and confidence.
“It definitely made a big change in my life,” Darin said.
Jennifer only applied to one college and was determined to get accepted and become a Highlander. She made that decision during her 11th grade year in high school, when she visited a friend and instantly made new connections. After working hard her senior year, she was thrilled to get the great news of acceptance into Radford University.
“I knew the school size was perfect for me. I knew the people were friendly. I knew I was going to make a lot of new friends,” Jennifer said. “I knew that was the school I wanted to go to, and it had the teaching degree that I wanted.”
She had that same determination when applying for her first job and got it, teaching first grade.
Together, the Elys agree they are proud to be Highlanders, because coming to the University helped their lives knit together in a meaningful way, both professionally and personally.
Although a lot has changed since those days living in Muse Hall, they have stayed close to their Highlander roots. Darin currently serves as a volunteer member of the Radford University Foundation Board of Directors and remains connected to the great work happening at the University.
“We like what they’re doing,” Darin said. “We like the additional commitment, the excitement that’s going on there and just feel like there’s something special going on right now at Radford.”
That’s one reason why the family is now investing in students’ futures and supporting their enhanced experiences on campus. The couple established the Darin M. Ely and Jennifer W. Ely Virginia Asset Group Scholarship for the Davis College of Business and Economics. The scholarship is for a full-time undergraduate or graduate student in the Davis College of Business and Economics with preference given to students from Washington County or Chesapeake, Virginia — the two home communities of Darin and Jennifer.
“Those places have been good to us, and we feel like we’ve been really fortunate,” Darin said. “If somebody from those areas wants to go to Radford, then we want to be able to provide a little bit of assistance.
“I liked the idea of something being around after we aren’t. The idea that it’s perpetual is really neat. The thought that 100 years from now somebody could still be getting a scholarship, that’s just a really cool thing,” Darin said.
“I’m grateful to Radford. I mean, that’s where we met, and it’s just a great way to give back."